A Crown for Ida O’Keeffe
“Her life and art have only appeared as context for that of her famed sister.”
-The Clark Art Institute, “Ida O’Keeffe: Escaping Georgia’s Shadow.”
The famous last name nudges you to find
a trace of Georgia, and you might—in stark
geometry and large blocks well defined
by colour—but in Ida’s work a spark
of wildness sets its own fire. Bold abstraction
subdues her sister’s shadow; shapes collide,
their force accumulates, and light and action
crowd the space. Sharp edges, multiplied,
direct the eye toward a blue and gold
and perfect orb of hard-won harmony--
as if a world of difference might uphold
a world of peace. Whatever you may see,
it’s not a shadow, it’s not imitation;
as Ida’s title tells us, it’s creation.
2. Royal Oak of Tennessee
As Ida’s title tells us, this creation
of soil and sun and time stands regally
beneath a southern sky; its domination
of earth and air determines what we see.
Reducing distant mountains to dull hills,
obscuring ripples in a nearby stream,
it sprawls both up and out, and more than fills
the frame. Its leaves, bright green but blurry, seem
to float above the massive trunk and limbs,
whose thickly muscled reach commands the eye;
more bark than foliage, the grand oak trims
the vastness of the heavens. When the sky
grows dark, this king of trees stands unafraid--
and blocks from view the crown the stars have made.
3. Star Gazing in Texas
A woman’s need to see the stars has made
her climb this hill and stretch toward the sky,
her body long and thin, her bent arms laid
against her skull, her moon-pale chin held high.
Her need to see the stars has made men fall,
their faces unseen, their feet in the air--
has made them, like the distant horses, small
and vague and helpless and just barely there.
Her need has made her coal-black dog alert;
head cocked, tail straight, he stares out of the frame,
while she searches the sky, her milk-white skirt
bright as the starlight that she hopes to claim.
But need has made the stars unreal: too neat,
like children’s drawings. Heaven, too, a cheat.
Like children’s drawings—though they wouldn’t cheat
the eye of colour—this brown painting shows
a simple, finite world, a life complete.
The solitary toadstool will expose
no troubling passion; in its curving stem
and speckled head no secrets lie in wait,
no subtle mystery that might condemn
the random spectator to meditate
on meaning. But it’s all so very brown--
from tan to cocoa to mahogany.
No sunlight’s penetrated this far down;
the toadstool lives beneath a canopy
of grander green. Perhaps it does deserve
a closer look. Why does this pale stem curve?
5. Still Life with Fruit
A close look at this fruit and this pale curve
of wall behind it finds a harmony
of shapes: the creamy backdrop’s rightward swerve
echoes the lean of berries, which agree
with arcs of apples. And a rhythm made
of colors links the yellows of the vase
and apples, like bright whole notes played
against leaf green and berry pink. The space
has been composed to satisfy the eye,
but almost stirs the ear: a mute pavane,
a nearly-sung but soundless lullaby,
an etude when Chopin’s left the salon.
An unseen sun conducts the scene: its gaze
lights arcs of calm that hum beneath its rays.
6. Variation on a Lighthouse Theme IV
Wild arcs and angles broadcast piercing rays
of artificial sun that punctuate
a realm they don’t attempt to rule; their blaze
of white and yellow means to mitigate
the gray and blue. Not warmed by Georgia’s light,
her sister coolly trusted her own eyes;
her vision proved sufficient to ignite
this shining lamp. Defining coastal skies
in well-timed intervals, her lighthouse guides
and warns the sailor, but won’t save a soul;
a lack of wit or will quickly divides
the sailor or the artist from his goal,
and neither would trust solely in protection
that might be offered by a split reflection.
7. Whirl of Life
What might be offered in this split reflection--
this half-red, half-black flash of energy--
is up to you. Do you see disconnection
between the dark and bright? Or do you see
one feed the other? Scarlet swirls invade
an inky depth—or that abyss has bred
a bloody fury—or the void has made
a space for brilliant revels. Or instead
you might see flames, or birth, a pulsing heart,
a holy moment or one of damnation,
two mighty forces wed, or torn apart.
What few will see is peace, or resignation,
or shadows—those that cast doubt or the kind
the famous last name nudges you to find.
Jean L. Kreiling
Jean L. Kreiling is the author of two collections of poetry: Arts & Letters & Love (2018) and The Truth in Dissonance (2014). Her work has been honoured with the Able Muse Write Prize, the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters Sonnet Prize, the Kelsay Books Metrical Poetry Prize, a Laureates’ Prize in the Maria W. Faust Sonnet Contest, three New England Poetry Club prizes, the Plymouth Poetry Contest prize, and the String Poet Prize.
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